O'Brien to get a treat this holiday

For the first time in 10 years, archbishop will not be overseas

December 22, 2007|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien will be spending Christmas a little differently this year.

But it's not just that this is his first Noel as archbishop of Baltimore. Every year for the past decade, he's marked the holiday overseas.

"This is the first Christmas I've been in the states in 10 years," he said.

Formerly the archbishop of military services, O'Brien would travel to celebrate Mass with the troops at different bases on Christmas. Last year he was in Kuwait, and the year before that he went to Bosnia and Kosovo.

He had planned to celebrate this Christmas with troops in Iraq, as he had done in 2004. But then he was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the nation's oldest archdiocese, with roots that go back to 1789 and the first American bishop, John Carroll.

Now O'Brien is preparing for his first Christmas in his new role, as the head of a half-million Catholics.

"I just am so inspired by all that goes on in our parishes and schools," he said. "It really is a diocese full of life and vitality. It's a great experience to witness and inherit this."

The details of Carroll's first Christmas as bishop are lost to history, said Rev. Michael J. Roach, the pastor of St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester, who teaches church history at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg.

Carroll was consecrated in England in 1790 and returned to Baltimore months later, in early December, Roach said. Then, he traveled to Rock Creek, south of Baltimore, to visit his mother, Roach said. But the cleric's letters don't detail how he spent that first holiday.

Given the political climate, however, Roach surmised that Carroll's celebration of the holiday would have been joyful but discreet, reflecting the subdued religious practice of Catholics under English rule as well as his desire to uphold the new country's diversity.

O'Brien, too, expects to be with family this holiday season.

The archbishop will be celebrating 5:45 p.m. Mass on Christmas Eve at the downtown Basilica of the Assumption and midnight Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.

Then, "I'm going up on Christmas Day to meet family and friends," he said.

A Bronx native, he spent most of his priesthood in the Archdiocese of New York.

O'Brien said he hoped to "get a day of prayer" Sunday to prepare his Christmas homily for his first Christmas in Baltimore.

"I hope to get in the spirit of the season and do some thinking and reading and some writing," he said.

"Christmas is a feast we all can identify with," he said. "Rich or poor, it means something.

"We should be surprised that God would come in the form of a child, a baby," O'Brien said. "His love was so strong and so infinite for us that it wasn't enough to help us from afar."

It's a feeling that military personnel can relate to, the archbishop said. "Troops overseas feel the same way," he said. "They really have a great joy of Christmas ... but there's nothing like being home."

Since O'Brien's formal installation in October, several parishes in the archdiocese have suffered through accusations of wrongdoing against their pastors, which led to their removal.

"Maybe this will help everybody focus on our faith and the real meaning of Christmas," O'Brien said. "Christ, who's God with us - that's the important thing. Nothing should distract us from that."

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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